8 Mental Health Interventions for Holiday Stress

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Well, sort of. I’m currently sitting in front of my computer with my Gator PJ pants, long sleeves, slippers, and my giant Vermont hoodie on. The heat is on. My toes feel like they are frozen solid and honestly, I don’t think there is anything worse than getting out from under your covers in the morning and immediately getting goosebumps. Just a shock to my system every new day.

As we know (except me, don’t forget I’m originally a Floridian), this chill is the sign of the best two months of the year! It’s scarf weather, sweater weather, boot weather, Starbucks RED cup time, leaves on the ground, Santa comes to town, we light the menorah, we sing carols, some of us eat Turkey, some of us don’t, we see family, we say ‘Cheers’ and if we’re really lucky, there are no tears…

Wait, what? You don’t cry during the holidays? You don’t find the process of spending tons of money, getting everyone gifts, dealing with family in an amplified state, and just the general stress that also comes along with the close of the year?

Don’t get me wrong, I do love this time of year in spite of how cold my toes are right now. But, I do find this season to be somewhat stressful. We’re not traveling home to our families this year, which I’m sad but also elated about because traveling during the holidays can be super taxing. On top of that, my family is fragmented, so the holidays are never quite this overjoying experience. I stress about who to buy presents for, since there is the ‘obligation’ to buy gifts and then there is the ‘desire’. Two very different things. Getting dressed has also become an ordeal because I’m terrified I’ll be too hot or too cold (now I’m just complaining to complain) and this whole ‘layers’ thing is just beginning to make sense.

I decided that I should share some of my mind ninja abilities to help those of you out there who might be feeling a bit stressed as the days until Thanksgiving and all the December holidays tick by. I’ll start with the obvious ones and then I’ll give you some specific techniques that are designed to relieve stress.

Let’s cover the basics.

1. Get enough exercise! I know it’s cold and you probably want to fluff up for the winter, but stay active! It’s not just because working out is good for the way you look, but you release all these happy hormones that help you relieve your stress and avoid it in the first place.

2. Eat right! Yes, yes, yes, this is the time for cookies, pumpkin pie, gingerbread houses, and the whole shebang. Too much sugar makes you feel like crap. Yeah, it’s awesome when it hits your lips, but even ignoring what it does to your hips, it makes your mood dip (sorry, I cannot stop rhyming today). Don’t forget, booze = sugar once it’s processed in your system.

OK, I feel like those are the obvious ones. Stay active and eat well, duh. Let’s talk about some things you can do that will help you de-stress moment-to-moment in the next two months (and hopefully after if you can handle it).

3. Practice Gratitude

I regularly share how thankful I am when I am feeling stressed. This isn’t because it’s just some ‘thing’ I feel compelled to do when I’m frazzled, I do it because gratitude is a proven stress reliever. Stress is cultivated from a mindset you read above – complaining just to complain. So what if my toes are cold? I have a home, a heater, food, and a bed to keep me warm at night. That’s a lot more than others have. I practice gratitude as a meditation before I sleep. I have adapted my evening prayer routine (yay, Catholicism!) and turned it into a 10-15 minute inner dialogue where I just say thank you for everything I have to whomever is listening. It’s very powerful and I recommend any of you to try it as a regular practice until the end of the year. I guarantee it will make your life better.

Plus, I hear there’s a holiday coming up specifically for this practice. Time to start training.

4. Practice Deep Breathing

Notice I keep saying practice? Well, practice implies a regular attempt to integrate a behavior into your life. With deep breathing, it has to be a practice. You can’t just breathe deeply once when you’re really upset, you have to do it often. You get enough oxygen in your body and you are practically high on life. You guys that practice yoga know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’re not familiar with deep breathing, I recommend watching a YouTube video and/or read an article on the subject. It was hard for me to learn how to do it until I picked up yoga as a regular practice (feel free to take up yoga as well!).

If you’re worried about turning it into a practice, set an alarm on your phone and time yourself. Start small – 30, 60, 90 seconds – and try to work up to several minutes. I promise you will feel calmer.

5. Go Outside!

Seriously, leave your house right now (you don’t even have to finish this post if you don’t want to). Walk around, smell the air, and let the sun hit your face. Even if there isn’t much sun, the outdoors are incredibly therapeutic. Walking gets the blood flowing, the brain moving, and gives you something to do besides feel stuck in your stress/anxiety.


6. Practice Grounding

Grounding is a technique used to remove people from their panic and anxiety. It is a technique often used in counseling when a client is having a panic attack or reliving trauma, but it is just as effective on other extreme emotions. The goal of grounding is to become hyper aware of the present. Look around, what do you see? Go in-depth with your analysis. If you are outside and practicing grounding, you might notice a tree, you see the leaves, what color are they? If you were to describe that color, what would you name it?

Grounding can be further enhanced by tactile sensations. Take your shoes off. What does the ground feel like? Is it windy outside? What does the air feel like against your skin? Is it warm or cold?

Grounding is basically just amplified mindfulness.

7. Progressive Muscle Relaxation

It’s very rare that I have trouble sleeping. If I make it completely through my gratitudes and I start feeling like I’m going to have to keep coming up with things I’m thankful for for another 7 hours, I start panicking. Granted, I could do it, but I’d much rather go to bed. Once I’m wound up about not being able to sleep, the only thing that helps is progressive muscle relaxation. I use this technique on a regular basis because I find that I’m just a tightly wound person. My brow often furrows if I’m thinking too hard, my feet tap, I will dance in my chair, and it just ends up being a lot of internalized energy just sitting in my muscles. This technique helps get that stuff out and help you get back to your baseline.

In essence, this technique is the tightening and releasing of muscle groups in an anatomically sensible pattern. I usually start at my feet, tensing them for about 5 seconds as tight as I can and then I release them. Then my calves, my thighs, my bum, my stomach & back, my hands, my upper body, and then my neck and face. By the time I’m done squishing my eyes and feeling my face fall, I’m much more zenned out.

Lastly…

8. Remember: No Feeling is Permanent

Whatever triggers you or causes you stress this holiday season, it’s important to remember that no feeling is permanent. This holiday season will come and go. Soon it will be January and it will be a long time before we have to do these shenanigans again. Don’t catastrophize whatever is plaguing you. It’s not worth it to feed negative emotion that much.



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Posted on by Jen Bingaman, M.A. LMHCA Posted in Counseling Skills, Individual, Mind
Jen Bingaman, M.A. LMHCA

About Jen Bingaman, M.A. LMHCA

Hi, I’m Jen. I’m a mental health counselor newly residing in Seattle, Washington. I strongly believe in the mind-body connection as the cornerstone of my professional ideology, along with the healing possibilities of puppies, a good glass of red wine, the smell of a new book, and the importance of travel.